UPenn’s Wharton School vs. Columbia Business School
Post date: Jul 19, 2012 3:12:19 AM
If you get an invite to attend either of these two business schools, you are an exceptional person with huge upside potential. Otherwise, Wharton and Columbia would have dinged you. There are probably more similarities between these two schools than differences. “We are a fact-based and data-driven school,” says J.J. Cutler, deputy dean of Wharton’s MBA Admissions and Career Services. “We do not have a charisma-style approach. We let the data drive us and help lead us to the solutions.” The same could just as easily be said of Columbia.
Yet, there are important differences. The first is obvious: Columbia is all about New York and the awesome resources it routinely leverages from the capital of the world. Unlike Wharton, it also enters two MBA classes a year, in January for students who don’t need or want a summer internship, and in September for a more conventional full-time MBA schedule. The diversity of exceptional students in both schools is mind-boggling: In Columbia’s Class of 2011, for example, are students who have interned at the White House, managed hedge funds, published books, produced TV shows and launched companies in the U.S. and abroad. The class includes an army ranger and recipient of the Bronze Star, the founder of the largest organic vegetable processing factory in northwestern China, a finalist on American Idol (we’re not kidding), and a three-time Grammy award-winning music producer.
Wharton's Huntsman Hall in Philadelphia
Top Ten Reasons to Go to Wharton?
You want to work for a financial services firm and want the single best degree to do so.
You want lots of choices in courses, joint programs with other schools.
You’re not yet sure what you want to concentrate in and want to insure you have a deep dive in virtually any subject.
You’re up for an intense, competitive culture.
You thrive in a larger environment and enjoy being a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
You want to work, live and play in world-class business school facilities.
You expect to be among the highest paid MBAs in the world.
You prefer smaller, manageable cities to larger, more congested ones.
You think Rocky is one of the best pictures ever made.
Top Ten Reasons to Go to Columbia?
It’s one of the six best MBA programs in the world.
It’s all about location, location, location. That is, New York location.
You want a deep and thorough education, not merely in finance but a subset of it, such as investment management, private equity, value investing or something even more obscure.
You expect to work in New York and want to be part of an extremely strong alumni base in the city where every major company is populated with at least some key players who got their MBA ticket punched where you did.
You are highly competitive and want to go through a tough, competitive MBA program.
You thrive in a larger environment and enjoy being a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
You want to be part of an extremely diverse class, with lots of international exposure.
You don’t mind traffic, people congestion, overpriced housing, and putting up with the hassles of big city life.
You love big city life, or at least badly want to try it out, and you tend to dislike small towns in isolated places.
You root for the New York Yankees, love museums and Carnegie Hall.
The more detailed differences between Columbia and Wharton?
Geography: Columbia Business School is the quintessential big city university. Its location in New York, the business, financial and media center of the world, brings the school massive benefits: a living laboratory of markets and businesses, an endless supply of well-qualified adjunct teachers, and more visiting executives who gravitate to its classrooms to speak and lecture. The school estimates that it gets more than 500 guest speakers a year on campus. That is a networking opportunity that is unique. “We have a big advantage being in New York City because there are so many opportunities for students to visit local alumni in their work offices and for alums to come back and coach students on campus,” says Ethan Hanabury, a senior associate dean at Columbia. He estimates that as many as 3,000 alums come back to the school each year for conferences, classes, recruiting sessions, and mentoring programs. There are few cities in the world that are as alive, exciting and dynamic than New York. The drawback to Columbia’s location is also obvious: As one student put it, “It’s easier to get a little lost in New York, to feel a little less rooted if you’re from outside the area, and to be a little more anonymous.” The social dynamic is completely different as well. Because Columbia MBAs rarely live together but are spread throughout the city, they’re far more likely to be more competitive with each other. It’s easier to stab someone in the back when you rarely see them outside of class. Wharton’s location in the heart of Philadelphia makes it a train ride away from either New York or Washington. Despite some concerns over the neighborhood surrounding the school, Wharton is in an extremely safe and comfortable place. With the fifth largest population in the U.S., Philadelphia is a great, compact city, with world-class restaurants and cultural attractions. Most students who attend Wharton have never been to Philadelphia and are usually pleasantly surprised by the city’s livability. Says Wharton’s Cutler: It’s fair to say that you can’t compare Philly to New York. They are different places. It’s not better or worse, they are different.”
Size: Both Wharton and Columbia boast two of the largest full-time MBA programs in the world. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Wharton is 1,674, versus Columbia’s 1,293. In the September-entry class alone, Columbia brings in about 554 full-time MBAs as well as another 121 Executive MBAs. Wharton enrolls just over 860 full-time MBAs each fall semester. They’re divided into four groups of about 210 students that are known as clusters. Then, each cluster is chopped into three cohorts of about 70 students. Every cohort moves through the core curriulum as a unit, sharing the first year of their academic experience. You can waive out of the core courses if you have prior experience in the subject and move onto more advanced coursework. Only three courses can’t be waived at Wharton: business ethics, leadership, and communications. It’s a similar story at Columbia which divides up its new students into clusters of 60 to 65 people who take most of the first-year core classes together.
Culture: Wharton and Columbia are big-city schools with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with that. Typically, schools in large urban settings tend to have more intense and competitive cultures. It’s easier to escape school in a big city than it is in a college town or rural setting. While cut-throat competition may be exaggerated at Columbia (it has been said that MBA students once hid books from classmates), it’s true that the Columbia environment is more competitive given its location in hyper-competitive New York. A year ago, a graduating Columbia student penned an essay for the campus newspaper in which he he bemoaned the lack of a supportive and encouraging culture. “There is no community at Columbia,” he wrote. “There is no sense of solidarity. There is no creative energy. Too many people out for themselves.” There’s more than some hyperbole in those comments, but they are directionally correct. A greater sense of community exists at Wharton if only because the campus is compact and contained, and you’re more likely to know a larger number of your classmates. Wharton has one significant disadvantage for MBA students: it has one of the largest undergraduate business and executive educations programs in the world, with 2,621 undergrads and 9,000 executives attending seminars and longer programs. Columbia has no undergraduate business population and few executive education courses to spread its faculty over.
Facilities: Unfortunately, Columbia Business School has the absolute worst facility of any prestige b-school. That’s no fault of the school’s leadership. For years, several deans have been trying to get a new world-class building to replace the 1960s-built Uris Hall, but politics and highly limited space on campus have made this a long, and difficult quest. Meantime, all of Columbia’s peers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new world-class complexes so the contrast between what Columbia has and everyone else is vast. Uris is an unattractive concrete slab of a building, over-crowded and sub-standard in every way. No wonder the school’s elaborate website contains only a single photograph of the outside of Uris among numerous slideshows of the overall university campus and New York. It has been renovated, but has limited places to study and few classrooms. There is no business school residence hall. Instead, some b-school grads get to fight it out for the limited graduate housing with Columbia’s other schools. Half of the MBA classes, including the core, gets taught two blocks away from Uris at Warren Hall, a building on 115th St. shared with the university’s law school. Though the school has two other buildings, they are used for the Executive MBA and executive education programs. So all the action in the MBA program occurs in Uris and Warren on Columbia’s Morningside campus which runs from West 114th St. to West 120th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. This will change, perhaps by 2012, when the b-school is supposed to move to the university’s expanded campus, a 17-acre tract of land in West Harlem from Broadway to 12th St. between 125th and 133rd St. This new university campus won’t be fully built until 2030.
Wharton, on the other hand, has some of the best business school facilities in the world. The B-school campus is composed of seven buildings on and off Locust Walk, the brick-lined pedestrian thoroughfare at the heart of Penn. The buildings are closely clustered around the area of campus known as the “Wharton Quad,” a great meeting place and hub for students. The newest building, Jon M. Huntsman Hall, is home to both the undergraduate and graduate divisions of Wharton. It represents the single largest addition of academic space on the Penn campus in more than half a century. It’s a gorgeous world-class building of 320,000 square feet, designed around Wharton’s cohort learning model. This building alone boasts 48 clasrooms, four computer labs, 57 group study rooms, four floors of faculty offices, a 300-seat auditorium, student cafes and study lounges. If you’re keeping count, it’s essentially one building at Columbia versus seven at Wharton.
Teaching Methods: Both schools offer up a variety of teaching methods, from case study to lectures and team projects. There’s really no major difference in the classroom approaches at Wharton and Columbia, though the more flexible classroom space at Wharton offers the opportunity for more experiential opportunities. Wharton says that case studies make up about 35% of the work, team projects account for 25%, and lectures take up 20%. Columbia says that case studies and lectures each account for 40% of the classwork, while team projects make up 15%.
Program Focus: The most common misperception about Wharton and Columbia is that they are finance schools. While it’s true that Wharton and Columbia boast superb finance faculties and course options, these schools are more like department stores with widely diverse offerings than they are finance boutiques. Wharton, for example, claims to have more elective courses than any other business school in the world, nearly 200 across 11 academic departments (not including courses you can take elsewhere at the University of Pennsylvania). Columbia Business School, meantime, offers more than 130 electives, an amazing array of choices yet still about a third less than Wharton. Interestingly, Wharton opens a door to